XXVIII The Last Week: Tuesday

ANOTHER morning came and waned, and yet no letter from my sweetheart. I became acquainted with new shades and tones of anxiety and wretchedness. I could do nothing but wait. I spent half the day feverishly revolving a score of desperate and fanciful designs conceived in the vain idea of getting possession of the Push Book. I could perfect none of them. Each was more faulty and impossible than the last. I racked my brains to invent a plan of campaign regarding my sweetheart. How to obtain her consent to an immediate marriage; how to induce her to accompany me immediately abroad, and in such a manner heartlessly abandon the stricken and childless old couple, her uncle and aunt; that was the difficulty which faced me. It was almost as great a task as obtaining the Push Book. It seemed just as impossible. Worn out at last with the travail of ceaseless thought, I drove into town and changed May's cheque into banknotes. I then proceeded to the University, and packing up my few belongings—cap, and gown, and books, removed them to my cottage. It was a sadness to say good-bye to the old grey building, but it was a necessity. My career there had ended, and I knew that never again should I enter its coldly hospitable halls. One feels a pang in quitting for ever any place with which one has been long associated, even though it may possess but few pleasant memories. I had not loved the University nor my life there overmuch; but, nevertheless, tears came into my eyes as I slowly descended the terrace, and often I looked back regretfully.

At my cottage waited a telegram: “Expect me to-night, Denton.” I wondered a great deal at the message, but it brought me a certain comfort. I found it impossible to understand why my sweetheart intended to visit me; why

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had she not made an appointment to meet me elsewhere? It was no use wondering; again there was naught to do but wait. I passed the time in reading a host of sympathetic letters sent me by acquaintances and friends, which had collected during the past two days, and in replying to them. I dined as late as I could. Nine o'clock chimed in the University tower, ten, then half-past, and still I was alone. My impatience developed into a positive pain. I paced the floor of the room, and the hall. I threw the street door wide. Without, a fine rain was falling, driven by a thin icy wind: it was bitter cold. I piled wood and coal on the library fire, and resumed my restless walk, fretting like a caged wild animal. At a few minutes to eleven a cab drove up at my door, and my sweetheart sprang on to the pave. I rushed out, and in my gladness, gave the man a sovereign. “Go and get something to warm yourself. Return in two hours!” I cried.

Together we entered the cottage. I shut the door, and drew her into the warm library; she was cold as death.

She threw off her wet wrap and faced me. “Lucas,” she cried, “I want you to marry me at once!”

I stammered out in my surprise. “To—marry—you—at once!”

She gave a weary little smile; I saw that she was fearfully wan and haggard, her face was deeply lined, she looked as though she had not slept since I had last seen her, only sorrowed.

“Not to-night,” she said, “but soon. Oh, Lucas, I have had a terrible time!” With that she fell weeping into my arms. I comforted her as best I could, and kissing away her tears, besought her to tell me everything.

“It is aunty,” she explained, at last grown calm. “Ever since the——ah! she has hated both you and me, me especially, I think, and to-day the doctor warned poor old uncle that he will not be responsible for her reason unless I—keep away from her. Oh, Lucas, think of it. She—she is the only mother I have ever had, and—and I love her so, and she hates me. She wants to kill me!”

“My poor darling!” I muttered, heart-broken.

“Uncle has resigned his position in the civil service,” she

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continued, presently, “and Lucas, dear, he has been ordered a long sea-voyage, both for his health and aunty's sake!”

“Are they going soon, dear?”

“They ought to go at once; but—well dear, they will have now to live on his pension, and that won't allow them enough. You see they have always lived up to every penny of uncle's income—they had to, being in society, and having to entertain. You know that, Lucas, and—and they haven't any spare money; so, so unless——”

“Could not you help them, dear?” I asked.

Her face lighted up. “I would love to,” she cried, “but of course I had to ask you first, although I told uncle you would be only too glad!”

“May!” I said, huskily, for a sudden lump had risen in my throat, “you were wrong, utterly wrong. It was sweet of you to think of me like that, but your money is your own, and always will be. I shall never control it, and every penny you advance me I shall one day replace!”

She put her fingers over my lips. “Do not say such things,” she whispered; “they hurt me. I, and all that I possess, are yours, and must be yours. I am not a ‘new’ woman, dear, except that I want and shall have my way in certain things, and this is one of them. When we marry you shall be the master, because it is proper for the husband to be the master. You shall take my money as you take me. It will belong to you just as thoroughly, and you must do with it just as you do with me, use it as your own.”

“Ah, dear!” I said, sadly. “No man in the world is worthy of such generosity!”

She sighed and smiled. “I think that one at least is worthy, Lucas. You must never let me find out my mistake if I am wrong.”

“God helping me!” said I, and for a little while a reverent silence fell between us.

At last I whispered, “Shall we marry before they go, sweetheart?”

She shook her head. “They will set out on Saturday in the English mail steamer, now that I have your permission to help them, dear. You see the doctor wants them both to leave that sad house at once. After they have gone I

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shall stay in some hotel, the Australia, I think, for I should not care to live with any of my friends. I would be hampered in seeing and meeting you, and besides I would be but a dull companion for any one of them just now.”

“But our marriage, sweetheart; when do you wish it to be?”

She sighed deeply. “I wish it could be at once,” she murmured. “I wish that we could be quietly married, and go somewhere—anywhere, anywhere out into the world, far, far away from here, so that we might forget. But how could it be, Lucas? We must wait for some months at least after poor Edward's death (her voice broke), and besides there is your career at the University to think of; you will want to take your degree.”

I gazed at her, lost in thought. It seemed to me that I had an excellent opportunity now to acquaint her with a portion of my designs. I wished to heaven I could take her into my full confidence, but that I did not dare, at least not yet.

“Do you know what I should like to do, May?” I muttered, presently.

“No, dear; tell me!”

“I should like to finish my career at some English University—Oxford, for choice. I think I could obtain admission there ad eundem gradum, and by the change I would lose very little time!”

“I do not quite understand. Do you mean, leave here before you take your degree?”

“Yes, dear; at once. I could take my degree there, you see. We could be very quietly married before we set out, and no one need know anything about it; or should you prefer, we could be married when we arrived in England. An English degree would give me a better standing than a Colonial one. The only drawback is that I should have to be entirely dependent on you, dear, for the fact is I am at the end of my own resources.”

“That is not a drawback, Lucas!”

“It is a drawback which many men would regard as an insuperable obstacle. Indeed, I am sure that if the world

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knew I had proposed such a course to you, I would be universally condemned as a meanspirited adventurer.”

She smiled, ah, so sweetly! “Love makes all the difference,” she said. “If you were the rich one, would you not help me, and do all in your power to promote my happiness? I think it is stupid of the world to make such a difference between the sexes. Why should it be thought perfectly right for a woman to receive all from a man, and wrong for a man to accept anything from the woman he loves, and who loves him? But I really believe we wrong the world. I feel sure that sensible people have long ago abandoned such absurd prejudices. In any case, if we are satisfied, why need we care what the world might think, especially since the world need never know?”

“It is my thought!” I replied, gravely. “I feel no shame in taking from you, darling, because I know that one day I shall be able to repay. Of course even that power I should owe to you; but do not I owe everything to you in the great blessing of your love? Material benefits cannot be weighed against a gift so splendid. After all, nothing matters except love!”

“Nothing in the wide world, dear!”

“You consent, sweetheart?”

She put her arms about my neck. “Do you remember what I once said to my uncle in your presence, Lucas?”

I nodded.

“I told my uncle then that I was yours when you wanted me; I am of the same mind still, dear.”

“May,” I muttered, dreamily, “how greatly I mistook you in our first acquaintance. I thought you then a wayward, wilful girl, only anxious to win your own pleasure in all things.”

“And now?” she asked, with a loving smile.

“Now I know you for what you are—a woman, the most unselfish and generous on earth!”

“You were not mistaken,” she whispered. “Before I loved you I was what you said, a wayward, selfish, self-willed girl. If I have any merit now, it belongs more properly to love than me. It was love and you that wrought the miracle. But, dear, I must go now; it is very late.”

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“Tell me why you came here to-night,” I asked.

She blushed a little. “It was forward of me, was it not? But uncle had intended to come with me. He would have, too, except that poor aunty could not sleep, and he had to stay with her, as she cannot be left alone. But I came with his consent. There was nothing clandestine in it; he did not want me to at first, but I asked him how could there be any wrong in it seeing that we are engaged! And so he consented.”

“I may see you home, dear?”

“Ah, yes; I shall be glad.”

I went into my bedroom to get my greatcoat. To my dismay I found the window wide open, and marks of muddy feet, leading to and from the window, upon the carpet. Whoever had been my visitor had fled. I knelt down quickly to examine them. They were wet! I was seized with a great fear, less for myself than for the woman I loved! What if my uncle or one of the Push had spied upon our conversation! In that case the Push would know that I contemplated departing immediately from Australia! I asked myself what they would do. I found the answer in my heart, which had suddenly turned icy cold. The answer was “Murder!” They would murder my sweetheart! I shut and bolted the window and hurried back to her.

She turned pale when she saw my face. “What is it?” she cried.

I sank into a chair unable for a time to speak, so great was my agitation. And yet I dared tell her nothing. I feared, feared too much to lose her. I could not believe that were I to confess to her, to tell her all my dreadful story, to tell her that through me Edward Shaw was dead, she would do anything but turn from me; abandon me for ever! Yet I knew the danger in which she stood, the full measure of it, made now to overflow by this night's work; I felt it in my bones.

“What is it?” she repeated, sharply, and came towards me, trembling with sympathetic fear.

I looked at her despairingly. Suddenly a thought, an idea, flashed through my mind. “May!” I muttered,

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huskily, “a terrible thing has happened to me! I cannot tell you of it yet. I cannot explain it to you. Some day I shall; but I cannot yet. If you love me do not ask me to. If you love me, May, I implore you to believe what I say, to help me, to do what I ask.”

She stood quite still, gazing at me in the greatest amazement.

“What is it you want me to do?”

“I want you to hurry on your uncle's and aunt's departure. I want you not to let them wait here till Saturday, but to make them take the mail train to-morrow, to-morrow for Melbourne. You can do this, for it is only a matter of money, and you have money. I want you to go with them to Melbourne, to wait with them in Melbourne till they go, and then wait there for me. I want you not to return here, not to come back to Sydney. Ah, May.” I sprang to my feet and wildly threw out my arms. “If you love me, do this for me. I implore you. I beg you to do as I say.”

She always stared into my eyes; she was trembling a little.

“Why, why?” she said.

“I cannot tell you,” I groaned. “If you love me do not ask me, but do as I have said!”

She bit her lip. “You have some terrible reason for making this request! Lucas, your face is ashen white (she caught my hand), your hand is cold as death, you are shuddering, you are in an agony of fear!”

“For you!” I groaned.

“Tell me!”

“Your life is in imminent peril,” I cried, wildly. “Every hour you stay in Sydney the danger grows greater. It is all through me. I am a cursed creature. I bring a blight on all I love—already. Ah, what am I saying!”

She put her hand upon my breast. “Tell me, Lucas!”

“I cannot!”

“Trust me, Lucas!”

“I dare not!”

She drew back, her eyes cold and bitterly reproachful. “If you do not dare to trust me, how can I trust you?” she asked.

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“God knows I am worthy of neither your trust nor love!” I cried, despairingly. Suddenly there came into my mind all the dastard thing I was. Till that moment I had determined, if I could, to somehow seize and destroy the Push Book, and thereafter escape from Australia with my sweetheart; to make her my wife, with the dark shadow of my life unconfessed upon my soul. I had thought to confess all to her on some future day, but when that day came she would be bound to me, and I secure, having her for my wife. With a great flash of light the scales fell from my eyes. There had not until that moment appeared to me anything dishonourable in my designs. But with a sense of utter despair I now realised that I had purposed dealing to the woman I worshipped the greatest wrong in my power to inflict upon her. She would have wedded me believing my past that of a free man, whereas I was, and always must be, a crime-haunted being. I had done no great wrong to my fellows, it is true; my crime had consisted in concealing my criminal knowledge from society; but that crime blackened me in my own eyes then. For I realised that if in the first instance I had known and done my duty as a proper man should without fear or reck of consequences, many men who had been ruthlessly murdered might have been alive and well that day.

I came to a sudden resolution, the strongest and saddest of my life. I saw my duty to my sweetheart, and prepared to follow it; feeling, knowing in every fibre of my being that I was about to lose her, but at least I would save her life. Afterwards nothing would matter, and my own life, so rendered valueless, I would devote to the welfare of society. I would betray the secrets of the Push. I would go to Detective Green and place myself in his hands, so that thereby justice might be done, and the world presently rid of a gang of unexampled malefactors. I would suffer with them, but my fate would be but just, since I deserved to suffer for my weakness, my cowardly irresolution of the past.

During the silence occupied by these swift and fateful reflections, my sweetheart had watched me, trying, I think, to read my thoughts from my expression.

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I turned to her at last, and pointed to a chair. “I shall tell you everything,” I said, “but it will take long.”

She sat down silently, and with blurred eyes I of a sudden kneeled before her. “May, darling May!” I whispered, huskily, “give me one kiss, it—it may be the last.”

She smiled in my face; a divine, sweet confidence in her eyes.

“No, Lucas,” she murmured, “not the last,” and she put her arms about my neck. I kissed her on the lips, as a man might kiss his best loved about to die, and then I rose, and in a low, hoarse voice commenced my dreadful story. I dared not look at her; but stood always with fiercely clenched hands, staring miserably at the floor. I told her of my parents, their sad and shameful end; the deceit I had practised on her regarding my place of birth. Thence my life upwards I recounted step by step, much as it has been narrated in these pages, concealing nothing, sparing myself nothing, revealing even the cowardice which had been my cruellest taskmaster in the past. Last of all I confessed the deadly wrong which I had dreamed to do her. She uttered no word; not once did she interrupt me with a single comment, not once did I glance at her face. The silence was so deep and unbroken, save for the husky mutterings of my voice, that I might have been confessing to a spirit. The University clock chimed the hour of two before I had concluded. But at length I stood speechless before her, and the silence was supreme. I was cold, cold as stone. Long ago had the fire died out in the grate, but I was still as well as cold. I had no hope, but I also felt neither pain nor fear. I had experienced every torture, every agony during my confession which it is possible for a human heart to endure, and the reward was a dull paralysis of sense. The silence lasted long; it was scarcely broken by a faint, still whisper from my sweetheart.

“That day—at the picnic—at Maroubra,” she whispered, “the men whom you drove off when you saved us, were they of your Push?”

I looked up into her eyes. I scarcely know how I found strength to do it. “No,” I muttered; “at first I thought

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they might have been, but they were strangers to me!” Her eyes were very dark and troubled, they had lost their brightness. Her face was wan and grey as that of a ghost.

“I am glad of that!” she said, and very slowly, very quietly she got to her feet.

“What will you do?” I muttered.

“I do not know,” she answered, and moved slowly to the door; she seemed weary to death.

“At least you will go, you will go to Melbourne. For God's sake do so much!” I muttered, hoarsely.

She looked at me over her shoulder. “And you—what will you do?”

“My duty; the duty I have failed in for so long.”

“You will try and bring those wretches to the scaffold?”

“Is it not my duty?”

She shuddered violently. “Is it so? Blood for blood—is it duty to exact vengeance? Murder for murder? Would it do the poor dead people any good to kill their murderers? Rather prevent those wretches from working further ill to humanity.”

“But how?”

“Obtain from them their dreadful book. In your hands it will be an instrument to force them into leading better lives. Better that way than the other. In any case without that book how can you succeed? Would they confess their crimes when you accuse them? I think not. It would be simply your word against the words of hundreds. You could not prevail against them; you would merely sacrifice yourself!”

The justice of her thought confounded me. “It is true!” I cried. “I have been mad to think otherwise!”

“Let me go,” she murmured; “it is late, very late, and I am cold.”

I opened the drawer of my desk and took out my revolver.

She shuddered to see it. “I must accompany you!” I muttered. “They might attack you on the road.”

She made no response, but when we entered the cab I thought she shrank from me. We said no word during the drive. I felt that I was committing a sacrilege in being so

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close to her; but I could not help myself, it was certainly my duty to guard her life. I escorted her through the gate up to her door, which she opened with a latchkey, for I thought it even possible that some agents of the Push might be lurking in the garden to work her ill. So great was my fear for her, that every shrub became an enemy, every shadow a dreadful peril.

As she crossed the threshold, she turned. “Good-bye, Lucas!” she whispered.

“It is for ever,” I muttered, in reply; “but ah, May, for the sake of the love you had for me, for the sake of the love I have and which I shall always bear to the last hour for you, I implore you to leave Sydney to-morrow.”

“It is your wish,” she said.

“My last wish!” I whispered, humbly. “Grant it, May!”


“Thank God!” I muttered, gazing steadfastly into the shadows that enveloped her, for I could not see her face. “The money!” I whispered. “The money you gave me. I have not touched it yet. I shall send it to you to Melbourne; you will stay at Menzies, will you not?”

A sudden choking sob issued from the gloom in which she stood. She gave me no other answer, and the door closed softly on my face. I kissed the handle very reverently, it was the last place which her hand had touched, then I turned and walked slowly to the gate, and in my heart was a prayer to Providence that I might be struck down in swift, merciful death, for I had lost everything, everything.

Whirling homewards I laughed. I was a little mad, I think. I laughed out like a maniac, and my frantic peals woke strange echoes in the deserted thoroughfares through which I passed. Tired-looking policemen, the lamplight glinting on their dripping waterproofs, stopped in their dreary beats to gaze at the flying cab, setting me down perhaps as some wild, belated reveller returning from a drunken orgie. I cared for nothing. The thought which moved me to mirth was this: “I am now free. I have now no one in the world who depends on me for anything. May

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leaves to-morrow, she therefore will be safe, for the Push's power of vengeance extends no farther than the confines of Sydney. I am free to fight the Push as best I please, and fight them I shall, until either they have killed me or I have bested them!” Also there came curious fanciful plans into my mind as to how I should fight them, and I thought of the surprise with which my new methods would be regarded; so I laughed and laughed!